Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Archive for January, 2012

How do I claim a charitable contribution of property?

Claiming a charitable deduction for a cash contribution is straightforward. The taxpayer claims the amount paid, whether by cash, check, credit card or some other method. Taxpayers need only a bank record or a written acknowledgment from the charity. For contributions of property, the rules can be more complex.

Contributions of property

A taxpayer that contributes property can deduct the property’s fair market value at the time of the contribution. For example, contributions of clothing and household items are not deductible unless the items are in good used condition or better. An exception to this rule allows a deduction for items that are not in at least good used condition, if the taxpayer claims a deduction of more than $500 and includes an appraisal with the taxpayer’s income tax return.

Household items include furniture and furnishings, electronics, appliances, linens, and similar items. Household items do not include food, antiques and art, jewelry, and collections (such as coins).

To value used clothing, the IRS suggests using the price that buyers of used items pay in second-hand shops. However, there is no fixed formula or method for determining the value of clothing. Similarly, the value of used household items is usually much lower than the price paid for a new item, the IRS instructs. Formulas (such as a percentage of cost) are not accepted by the IRS.


The rules are different for “qualified vehicles,” which are cars, boats and airplanes. If the taxpayer claims a deduction of more than $500, the taxpayer is allowed to deduct the smaller of the vehicle’s fair market value on the date of the contribution, or the proceeds from the sale of the vehicle by the organization.

There are two exceptions to this rule. If the organization uses or improves the vehicle before transferring it, the taxpayer can deduct the vehicle’s fair market value when the contribution was made. If the organization gives the vehicle away, or sells it far well below fair market value, to a needy individual to further the organization’s purpose, the taxpayer can claim a fair market value deduction. This latter exception does not apply to a vehicle sold at auction.

To determine the value of a car, the IRS instructs that “blue book” prices may be used as “clues” for comparison with current sales and offerings. Taxpayers should use the price listed in a used car guide for a private party sale, not the dealer retail value. To use the listed price, the taxpayer’s vehicle must be the same make, model and year and be in the same condition.

Most items of property that a person owns and uses for personal purposes or investment are capital assets. If the value of a capital asset is greater than the basis of the item, the taxpayer generally can deduct the fair market value of the item. The taxpayer must have held the property for longer than one year.

Please contact our office for more information about the tax treatment of charitable contributions at (908) 725-4414.

FAQ… When do I need to file IRS Form 8938?

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), enacted in 2010, requires certain U.S. taxpayers to report their interests in specified foreign financial assets.  The reporting requirement may apply if the assets have an aggregate value exceeding certain thresholds. The IRS has released Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets, for this reporting requirement under FATCA.


For now, only specified individuals are required to file Form 8938, but specified U.S. entities will eventually also have to file the form. Taxpayers who do not file a federal income tax return for the year do not have to File Form 8938, even if the value of their foreign assets exceeds the normal reporting threshold.

Individuals who have to file Form 8938 include U.S. citizens, resident aliens for any part of the year, and nonresident aliens living in Puerto Rico or American Samoa.

Reporting applies to specified foreign financial assets. Specified foreign financial assets include:

  • A financial account maintained by a foreign financial institution;
  • Other foreign financial assets, such as stock or securities issued by a non-U.S. person, or an interest in a foreign entity.

The aggregate value of the individual’s specified foreign financial assets must exceed specified reporting thresholds, as follows:

  • Unmarried U.S. taxpayers, and married U.S. taxpayers filing a separate return – more than $50,000 on the last day of the year, or more than $75,000 at any time during the year;
  • U.S. married taxpayers filing a joint return – more than $100,000 on the last day of the year, or more than $150,000 at any time during the year; or
  • Taxpayers living abroad: if filing a joint return, more than $400,000 on the last day of the year, or more than $600,000 during the year; other taxpayers, more than $200,000 on the last day of the year, or more than $300,000 at any time during the year.

Taxpayers who report assets on other forms, such as Form 3520, do not have to report the asset on Form 8938, but must use Form 8938 to identify other forms on which they report.


Reporting applies for tax years beginning after March 18, 2010, the date that FATCA was enacted. Most taxpayers, such as those who report their taxes for the calendar year, must start filing Form 8938 with their 2011 income tax return.

If you have any questions about Form 8938, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

Looking back: Top 10 federal tax developments of 2011

Looking back over 2011, the IRS, Congress and the courts made many tax decisions impacting taxpayers of all types. Some tax developments were taxpayer-friendly; others imposed new requirements on taxpayers.  Here is a brief rundown of the top 10 federal tax developments of 2011.

1. Bush-era tax cuts unresolved

Reduced individual income tax rates, marriage penalty relief, an enhanced child tax credit, and much more are part of a package of tax breaks known as the “Bush-era tax cuts.”  All of these incentives were renewed in 2010 and are scheduled to expire after 2012. President Obama wants to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for higher income individuals, which the White House broadly defines as single persons with incomes over $200,000 and families with incomes over $250,000.  In the summer of 2011, the White House and the GOP reportedly came close to an agreement but nothing materialized.  The fate of the Bush-era tax cuts will likely be one of the major issues in the 2012 presidential election.

2. Foreign account reporting oversight increases

Since passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010, the Treasury Department and the IRS have ratcheted-up their oversight of foreign accounts.  In December 2011, the IRS issued final Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Assets, which taxpayers will file to report foreign accounts (if they meet certain requirements). The IRS also issued guidance in 2011 for foreign financial institutions about their reporting obligations under FATCA.  In related news, the Treasury Department issued final rules on Form TD-F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) in February 2011. Lastly, the IRS launched a new campaign in 2011 to encourage taxpayers to voluntarily disclose unreported offshore accounts.  The 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI) rewarded taxpayers who came forward voluntarily with a reduced penalty framework (although not as generous as a similar program in 2009).

3. Payroll tax cut extended two months

President Obama signed the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 in December 2011. The new law extends the employee-side payroll tax cut through the end of February 2012. The two-month extension is intended to give Congress additional time to negotiate a longer-term extension of the payroll tax cut to cover all of calendar year 2012.

4. Cell phones removed from listed property category

The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 removed cell phones from the definition of “listed property.”  That category generally requires additional recordkeeping by taxpayers.  In September 2011, the IRS issued guidance on the treatment of employer- provided cell phones as an excludible fringe benefit. When an employer provides an employee with a cell phone primarily for noncompensatory business reasons, the business and personal use of the cell phone is generally nontaxable to the employee and the IRS will not require recordkeeping of business use to receive this tax-free treatment.

5. IRS launches Voluntary Classification Settlement Program

In September 2011, the IRS launched a new program to enable employers to voluntarily reclassify their workers for federal employment tax purposes and take advantage of a reduced penalty framework.  The Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) is open to employers currently treating their workers as independent contractors and who want to prospectively treat the workers as employees. The employer must not be under audit and satisfy other requirements.  The IRS has not announced an end-date to the VCSP.

6. IRS makes mid-year 2011 adjustment to business standard mileage rate

For the third time in six years, the IRS announced a mid-year adjustment to the business standard mileage rate because of rising gasoline prices.  The business standard mileage rate increased from 51 cents-per-mile to 55.5 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. The medical/moving standard mileage rate increased from 19 cents-per-mile to 23.5 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. Congress did not make a mid-year adjustment to the charitable standard mileage rate, which remained at 14 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. For 2012, the business standard mileage rate is 55.5 cents-per-mile and the medical/moving standard mileage rate is 23 cents-per-mile. The statutorily-determined charitable standard mileage rate remains at 14 cents-per-mile for 2012.

7. FUTA surtax expires

In 1976, Congress enacted the 0.2 percent FUTA surtax to help repay federal revenues paid in unemployment benefits. The Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009 extended the surtax through 2010 and the first six months of 2011.The 0.2-percent FUTA surtax expired after June 30, 2011.  In December 2011, the IRS released Form 940, Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return, and accompanying schedules, for 2011. Form 940 for 2011 reflects the mid-year expiration of the FUTA surtax.

8. IRS continues Fresh Start Initiative

During 2011, the IRS continued its Fresh Start Initiative, which the agency explains is its response to the economic slowdown. The Fresh Start Initiative allows lien withdrawals for taxpayers entering into direct debit installment agreements (and for taxpayers who convert from a regular installment agreement to a direct debit agreement).  The IRS also announced it would make streamlined installment agreements available to more small businesses.  Qualified small businesses with $25,000 or less in unpaid taxes can participate in the streamlined installment agreement program.

9. Basis overstatement regs

The Supreme Court agreed in September 2011 to resolve a split among the federal courts of appeal over IRS regulations that impose a six-year limitations period on assessments due to overstated basis.  The IRS asked the Supreme Court to decide, among other questions, whether an understatement of gross income attributable to an overstatement of basis in sold property is an omission from income that can trigger the six-year assessment period.

10. Congress bans tax strategy patents

In September 2011, President Obama signed the America Invents Act.  The new law is a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s patent laws. The new law treats any strategy for reducing, avoiding or deferring tax liability as prior art under patent law and therefore not patentable.

If you have any questions about these or any tax developments in 2011, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414

Payroll tax cut extended; temp. incentives expire

As 2012 gets underway, Congress has extended the employee-side payroll tax cut but a laundry list of tax incentives have expired and their renewal is in doubt.  The fate of these incentives, along with the Bush-era tax cuts, will dominate debate in Washington D.C. in 2012.  At the same time, tax planning in a time of uncertainty appears to have become the new normal.

Payroll tax cut

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011, approved by Congress on December 23 and signed by President Obama the same day, extends the 2011 payroll tax holiday through the end of February 2012. The employee-share of OASDI taxes is 4.2 percent for the period January 1, 2012 through February 29, 2012 (10.4 percent for self-employment income). The new law also includes a recapture provision for certain individuals.  However, the House Ways and Means Committee reported that the recapture provision will only apply if the payroll tax reduction is not extended for the remainder of 2012.  Lawmakers are expected to extend the employee-side payroll tax cut through the end of 2012, although not before difficult negotiations.

One speed bump to extending the payroll tax cut through the end of 2012 is its cost. The two-month extension is paid for by increasing certain fees charged to mortgage lenders.  A full-year extension will require additional offsets (unless Congress decides not to offset an extension). Lawmakers are reportedly discussing additional revenue raisers, such as unspecified changes to the S corporation rules and the closing of a loophole for corporate jets.  Other revenue raisers reportedly under consideration are repeal of certain oil and gas preferences and repeal of the last-in, first-out (LIFO) method of accounting.  A variety of spending cuts are also on the table.


After December 31, 2011, many popular but temporary tax breaks expire.  The incentives, which are known as “extenders,” impact individuals and businesses.  Some of the more popular individual extenders are the state and local sales tax deduction, the higher education tuition deduction, and the teachers’ classroom expense deduction.  For businesses, the research tax credit is one of the most important extenders.

One immediate change that many taxpayers will notice is a drop in transit benefits.  In 2011, commuters benefitted from more generous transit benefits.  The 2011 monthly limit on the tax benefit for transit and vanpools of $230 per month reverts to $125 per month in 2012. However, the monthly limit for qualified parking provided by an employer to its employees for 2012 will increase to $240, up $10 from the limit in 2011.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to extend the expiring incentives. However, the bills have languished in committee. One reason for the lack of movement is that Congress can extend the incentives in 2012 and make them retroactive to January 1, 2012.  The extenders are also separate from the temporary Bush-era tax cuts, which are scheduled to expire after December 31, 2012.  Many lawmakers do not want to link the extenders to the more-controversial Bush-era tax cuts.

IRS budget

One bill that did pass Congress at year-end 2011 was a fiscal year 2012 budget for the IRS.  Congress voted to cut $305 million from the IRS’s FY 2012 budget.  How this cut will impact IRS operations is unknown. In November 2011, the IRS offered buyouts and early outs to back-office employees to reduce its greatest expense: employee payroll.  The IRS could also delay some business systems modernizations to save money.  The IRS will likely keep customer service as close as possible to full funding, especially during the busy 2012 filing season.

Tax planning

One of the most significant challenges to long-term tax planning is the on-again, off-again nature of many tax incentives.  Temporary incentives, such as the research tax credit and the state and local sales tax deduction, have become de facto permanent incentives because they are regularly extended.   Nonetheless, they are temporary. Because of their temporary nature, taxpayers must have two tax plans: one that takes into account an extension of the incentives, and a second plan that does not.

If you have any questions about tax planning and tax legislation in 2012, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

Early planning can make 2012 filing season easier

The new year brings a new tax filing season. Mid-April may seem like a long time away in January but it is important to start preparing now for filing your 2011 federal income tax return.  The IRS expects to receive and process more than 140 million returns during the 2012 filing season.  Early planning can help avoid any delays in the filing and processing of your return.


Initially, you will need to gather your records for 2011. A helpful jumping-off point is to review your 2010 return. Your personal situation may be unchanged from when you filed your 2010 return or it may have changed significantly.  Either way, your 2010 return is a good vantage point for assembling the materials you will need to prepare your 2011 return.

If you need a copy of your previous year(s) return information, you have several options. You can order a copy of your prior-year return. Alternatively, you may order a tax return transcript or a tax account transcript.  A tax return transcript shows most line items from your return as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules.  However, a tax return transcript does not reflect any changes you or the IRS made after the return was filed. A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments you or the IRS made after the tax return was filed.

If you changed your name as a result of marriage or divorce since you filed your 2010 return, you must advise the IRS. Your name as it appears on your return needs to match the name registered with the Social Security Administration. A mismatch will likely delay the processing of your return.

Forms W-2

Many taxpayers cannot begin preparing their 2011 income tax returns until they have their Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Employers have until January 31, 2012 to send you a 2011 Form W-2 earnings statement.  If you do not receive your W-2 by the deadline, contact your employer. If you do not receive your W-2 by mid-February, contact the IRS.  You still must file your return or request an extension to file even if you do not receive your Form W-2. In certain cases, you may be able to file Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement.

Filing deadline

April 15, 2012 is a Sunday. Returns would normally be due the next day, April 16, 2012. However, April 16 is a holiday in the District of Columbia (Emancipation Day). As a result, the due date for 2011 returns is April 17, 2012.  If the mid-April tax deadline clock runs out, you can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file through October 17. However, this extension of time to file does not give you more time to pay any taxes due.  To obtain an extension, you need to file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Casualty losses

Many taxpayers experienced family, business and personal losses from hurricanes, tropical storms, wild fires, floods, and other natural disasters in 2011.  For federal tax purposes, a casualty loss can result from the damage, destruction or loss of your property from any sudden, unexpected, or unusual event such as a hurricane, tornado, fire, or other disaster.

Casualty losses are generally deductible in the year the casualty occurred. However, if you have a casualty loss from a federally-declared disaster, you can choose to treat the loss as having occurred in the year immediately preceding the tax year in which the disaster happened. This means you can deduct a 2011 loss on your 2011 return or amended return for that preceding tax year (2010).   If you have any questions about a casualty loss, please contact our office.

Retirement savings

Just because the calendar moved from 2011 to 2012 doesn’t necessarily mean you missed out on contributing to a retirement savings plan. You can contribute up to $5,000 to a traditional IRA for 2011 and you can make the contribution as late as April 17, 2012. However, if you or your spouse is covered by an employer retirement plan, this will affect how much, if any, of your contribution is tax deductible.  Individuals age 50 and older may qualify for a catch-up contribution of $1,000 on top of the $5,000 maximum.  Different rules apply to other types of retirement savings plans.  Our office can review these rules in detail with you.

IRS Fresh Start Initiative

In 2011, the IRS announced a new program, called the Fresh Start Initiative, to help distressed taxpayers. The IRS adjusted its lien policies, increased the dollar threshold when liens are generally issued, made it easier for taxpayers to obtain lien withdrawals, and extended the streamlined offer-in-compromise program.  Previously, the IRS had given its employees greater authority to suspend collection actions in certain hardship cases where taxpayers are unable to pay. This includes instances where a taxpayer has recently lost a job, is relying solely on Social Security, or is paying significant medical bills.

If you are experiencing hardship, the most important thing you can do is to remain in compliance with your tax obligations. If you owe back taxes, now is the time to pay them, if possible, or enter into an installment agreement, if you qualify, with the IRS. The IRS wants to see you making a good faith effort to pay your taxes.

Tax law changes

Along with assembling records and reviewing activities in 2011, it’s a good idea to review some of the tax law changes in 2011 that may affect your return.  Our office can review your 2010 return and see which areas may have been affected by tax law changes for your 2011 return.  In some cases, popular tax incentives that were available in 2010 were extended into 2011. You don’t want to miss out on any available tax breaks.

If you have any questions about preparing for the 2012 filing season, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.